Alex Greenwich: This Is Why I Wrote The Abortion Bill
The legislative effort to decriminalise abortion in NSW follows a long tradition in our parliament: addressing these types of issues through private members bills, multi-partisan collaboration and conscience votes.
The current bill was jointly drafted by Trevor Khan (Nationals), Penny Sharpe (Labor), Jo Haylen (Labor) and myself (independent), with the oversight of the health minister Brad Hazzard (Liberal). The bill has a record number of 15 co-sponsors representing all parts of the state and all sides of politics, with five from the government, five from the opposition and five from the crossbench.
This multi-partisan precedent was most famously set in 1984 when another issue was removed from the crimes act -- that being homosexuality. It was through a private members bill supported by then Premier Neville Wran and Opposition Leader Nick Greiner that the reform came to the parliament. Members of the Coalition, Labor, and crossbench all contributed to debate and it passed by a very similar majority as the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill passed through the lower house some 35 years later.
A similar process occurred when independent Clover Moore introduced legislation to allow same-sex adoption in 2010. She worked with cross-party members to get the bill right and got the support of both Premier Keneally and Opposition Leader O’Farrell.
In the last term of Parliament, Labor’s Penny Sharpe worked with the Nationals' Trevor Khan and Leslie Williams to introduce legislation for safe access zones at the entrance of reproductive healthcare clinics to protect women accessing care from harassment. Again, a multi-partisan effort was adopted with the support of both the Premier and Leader of the Opposition.
Premier Berejiklian and the Parliament have handled this current reform in the same way predecessors have for decades -- treating all members as equals on issues of conscience, with every member allowed to speak in detail and propose amendments. This important freedom has seen a majority of government, opposition, and crossbench MPs declare support for the bill.
The unprecedented national attention on abortion law reform has at times ignored this procedural tradition -- a tradition that is a strength of our state parliament over our federal colleagues, who famously failed to handle same-sex marriage reforms, instead outsourcing their responsibility to a postal survey at a cost of $80 million.
Just as the decriminalisation of homosexuality is no longer seen as controversial, the same can and will be said of the decriminalisation of abortion. Just as homosexuals existed prior to and after 1984, abortions currently occur in New South Wales.
Indeed, most people don’t know that abortions are in the crimes act because they are safely and lawfully performed in licensed healthcare facilities by registered doctors under common law interpretations. But the status quo is untenable because it supports the potential criminal conviction of women and healthcare professionals with up to 10 years in prison.
Doctors across the state have long called for greater legal certainty and a clearer legislated health framework. That is what our bill provides and that is why it is supported by the Australian Medical Association and the Royal College of Australian and New Zealand Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This is also why a clear majority of voters, the 15 cosponsors of the legislation, including both the health and shadow health ministers, and a majority of members of both houses of the NSW Parliament want to see abortion decriminalised.
As the debate continues through to the amendment stage in the upper house, I hope we continue to see respectful debate from people across the political spectrum working together on either side of this issue. It’s what our parliament has always done, and what our parliament does best.